There is a hidden gem of the dance world in our midst and that is Benita Bike’s DanceArt Company. For more than forty years Ms. Bike has quietly brought modern/contemporary dance to the community “to encourage art through dance performance.” I can only imagine the young viewers she has inspired with her beautifully evocative choreography and lovely company of dancers.
On Saturday afternoon, May 21st, DanceArt performed at the La Cresenta Library for an audience of friends, family and library visitors who happened in. It was free and open to all. Admittedly upon entering a recreation/meeting room laid with a Marley floor my expectations were low. I was wrong. Ms. Bike in her humble and humorous manner endeared herself to the audience as she introduced the opening piece, “Benches.”
Ms. Bike knows how to create ambience and she does so here with the soft chirping of birds filling the space and soon we the audience have forgotten the recreation room and have joined the dancers for a day in the park. A walk, a contemplative rest, a surprise meeting, a book read under a tree, all these scenes are called forth through Ms. Bikes gentle yet complex work. “Os Efeitos Da Ternura” by Os Musicos de Tejo a serene Portuguese song meaning “the effects of tenderness” worked perfectly to carry the dancers. With long lovely lines these performers fully embody the movement but moreover seem to understand the nuance of Ms. Bike’s vision. They move with effortless fluidity finding the rhythm and rise within the music as they glide confidently from segment to segment. Sounds of children playing lead us into Part II, “I’ll Weave My Love A Garland” a traditional song performed by VIDA. Whiling away her time on the park bench, soloist Lydia McDonald brings a poignancy to the stage as she pines for her absent lover. Though repetitive in nature and subtle in movement Bike creates a mood of wistful longing. “Once Again” by Hang Massive brings us to Part III. Introduced by a soundscape of busy evening traffic, we sense the close of day. Gently waving, rolling arms becomes the motif as the quartet of dancers welcome the evening in a tranquil end to the compelling “Benches.”
Ms. Bike’s choreography though based in modern technique is heavily influenced by contemporary lyrical dance with an underpinning of classical ballet. Her choreography is organic without tricks or a need to impress and though it may appear simple only dancers of a high caliber can execute it well. Luckily, her dancers are more than capable. They are Nola Gibson, Lydia McDonald, Samantha Rogers and Skye Schmidt.
“Entrelazada” or “Intertwined” excerpted from Joaquin Rodrigo’s” Zapateado,” a duet, is a look at women and friendship. The classical choral work beautifully underscores the support and empathy that women bring to their friendships, especially when meeting a “stormy challenge.” Costumed in red velvet dresses, dancers Lydia McDonald and Skye Schmidt perform with sensitivity and precision. Bike uses the floor often and well, enhancing the emotional upheaval of the dancers as they rise, fall and rise again. Although originally staged with more than two dancers this piece works because of it’s clear message and gratifying choreography. Costumes by Victoria Orr work well.
Upon introducing her new work “Griot Songs” Ms. Bike let us know that she felt that this might be a work in progress as she was unsure if her ideas were clear and she was hoping for constructive feedback. All this told with charm and humor allowed us to feel involved. Her candidness worked well in this venue but might not always be necessary. The “Griot” or “Storytelling” music from Ghana sets the premise that this will be a “story” dance that it will tell us something. However, in this regard only the first section was somewhat successful. Here dancer Nola Gibson appears to be the storyteller as the other three gather around. Through gesture and movement we follow her with the hope that a clear narrative will emerge. Though the performers, as always, dance with discipline and strength the storyline never comes into focus. Still, the choreography is compelling and a pleasure to watch even as we are unsure of the message. Ms. Bike is easily capable of remedying this. By making the concept clear for herself she will know how to adapt what she has begun.
Ms. Bike’s concern with the big picture, the sculptural shapes and spaces created by her dancers, and the intelligence of her staging all combine to make her work uniquely her own and uniquely worth seeing.
Ms. Bike will begin her 42nd season this September with a show in Pasadena and I plan to be there. I hope you will be too.
The expressive music for “Griot Songs” was “Sinanon Saran” by Kasse Mady Diabate, “Splendid Wood” by Jennifer Higdon and “Vero” by Ensemble 3MA. The effective sea blue costumes are by Brynn Holmes.
To learn more about Benita Bike’s DanceArt Company, please visit their WEBSITE.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Benita Bike’s DanceArt Company – (L-R) Skye Schmidt, Samantha Rogers, Nola Gibson, Lydia McDonald – Photo by Dean Wallraff
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